Once Kenley Jansen took hold of the closer’s role, and J.P. Howell, Paco Rodriguez, Brian Wilson and Chris Withrow emerged as trustworthy relievers, the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen became one of the more formidable groups in all of baseball last season. In order to return the core of relievers in 2014, the Dodgers re-signed Howell and Wilson, and added veterans Chris Perez and Jamey Wright. With a surplus of relievers going into the season, someone appeared bound to be left out.
Brandon League’s struggles last season would make him the likely candidate, but an exorbitant contract would prevent him from not being on the roster come Opening Day. With that in mind, Withrow was believed to be the reliever in most danger of losing his spot; particularly when considering the Dodgers were set to have three relievers — Jansen, Perez and Wilson — who all have experience as a closer and presumably would fill the role as the right-handers to be used in the later stages of games.
Despite a rough spring training where Withrow posted a 4.32 ERA in seven games, he found himself on the big league roster when the Dodgers headed to Australia for the Opening Series. Withrow hasn’t disappointed up to this point, allowing one hit while striking out eight in five innings of work. Some of the strikeouts came on a new cutter Withrow is working on, which is similar to his slider but has a slightly different action, the right-hander told Pedro Moura of the Orange County Register:
It all comes out feeling about the same, but the action is just different sometimes, Withrow said.
Withrow also told Moura he hopes to get to the point where the similar pitches are independent of each other, giving a nod to what Wilson’s accomplished:
My ultimate goal is to get where I can command both. I can turn them into two separate pitches, sort of like what Brian Wilson does.
While Withrow appears to have a spot in the bullpen secured, it could change if or when other Dodger pitchers return to full health. Should that point arrive, any two of the three from Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley or Paul Maholm could wind up in the bullpen. With more depth in back end relievers, specifically right-handers, Withrow may wind up being optioned to the minor leagues. Until then, manager Don Mattingly has been comfortable in calling on Withrow, which should allow him to continue refining his cutter.
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